Drafting a course description

I’m working on a syllabus for a course for next spring’s 4-week short term….not sure of the title yet…I’m toying with the words digital publishing startup. Here’s the first draft of a course description:

Through focusing on a specific type of publishing endeavor, literary outlets, we will investigate the mechanisms that power the web and the production of literature in the 21st Century. The last twenty-five years have seen a seismic transition in publishing from print to digital. We’ll explore what really comprises the web: standardized software and network protocols running on interconnected machines. A close reading of a case study in digital publishing will provide you with the structure for understanding these technologies. A hands-on approach in a series of 10 lab sessions will provide you with the experience to tackle a variety of business and technical scenarios for fiction and non-fiction publishing. For the course project students will assume the roles of a business, editorial, and production team in a digital startup that is creating a new venture publishing e-books in translation of foreign works as well as an online magazine. And in true startup fashion, we’ll do all this in 4 weeks.

Students are not expected to have prior in-depth experience with technology other than at the consumer level.


Renewing my sense of purpose

For years now, about 15 years, my thoughts have circled back to the same theme: storytelling in the mid-21st century.

I wrote a post about that on our book design blog back in 2011. In those days, my former wife and I ran a boutique design studio focused on designing not only books but also apps and websites. She handled the design while I focused on coding the software and building the business. When we started that business in 2005, I made the strategic decision to focus on a niche rather than a broad market of design. Being a general purpose design and development shop would have been too difficult with all the competition. We found our niche and for several years, through effective SEO, was the top search result for “book design” on Google. I’m proud of SoroDesign but after an eight year run it came time to move on to other ventures. A major part of that was moving back to the U.S. from Argentina. We settled in Virginia, which always has been one of my favorite states. (I had lived in Norfolk from 1995 to 2000.) Now I’m in Lexington, Virginia and have returned to my former profession of librarianship and spend my days as a librarian at Washington and Lee University. More on that in a moment. And my former partner at SoroDesign continues her career as an extraordinary book designer in her role as Senior Designer at the University of Virginia Press. She’s found a professional home in the field of scholarly publishing, which she enjoys very much.

As for me, I’ve always been a non-traditional librarian even though I love books and still strongly believe in the importance of the printed word and that libraries should still build print collections (in addition to all we do digitally). Career-wise, my focus as a librarian always has been digital. I found a solid path within academic librarianship that led to a good, (honestly, a great) career. Throughout the 1990s, I developed a growing interest in what was then called digital libraries. But there was always something in me that lacked interest in the librarian aspect of digital libraries. I was much more interested in how people used digital materials, particularly in how that content was used as a form of expression. In other words, I always was intrigued by the question, “How do you write in digital media?”

I’ve written this same essay over and over again throughout the years. I’ve talked already elsewhere about how reading Manovich’s The Language of New Media changed my perspective. Around 2004, I seriously thought about entering a PhD program in what would now be called digital humanities but that term hadn’t yet gained momentum. I was highly influenced by the writings of Janet Murray and Katherine Hayles. Yet, a romantic relationship and a newly emerged impulsive tendency prompted me to abandon my career at age 39 and move to Buenos Aires where I adopted a lifestyle of enjoying life and working to live rather than living to work. We formed SoroDesign that year (2005) and I started this blog that same year, though I’ve been very sporadic in my postings over more than a decade.

For several years, I blogged extensively at Buenos Aires, City of Faded Elegance. That’s where I really learned about blogging, SEO, building a loyal and engaged audience, and the importance of solid content. I loved writing about my long walks around the city, about my experiences at protest marches that happened almost daily in Buenos Aires, as well as posting about the cultural heritage of Buenos Aires, including a series of blogs posts I wrote titled 30 Days with Borges. The blog was even recognized internationally for excellent content. At its height, in 2008, that blog had over 80,000 unique readers a month. At that time, there really wasn’t much online in English about Buenos Aires. From that blog, I produced a profitable ebook and transitioned into developing apps about Buenos Aires. The apps turned out to be horribly unprofitable but the development experience was good. I launched a travel business with a good friend, which ruined the friendship as the business floundered. The Buenos Aires blog is still online but now as a historical artifact. And somewhere during my path in South America, I wrote some short stories and a novel (still unpublished), and spent an amazing but stressful two years living in an isolated village on the windswept coast of Argentina.

With a newborn baby in 2011, I found a good role working remotely for a New York city startup in developing a gamified travel app. And then, just as impulsively as I made the decision to move to Argentina in 2005, I made the decision to return to the U.S in 2013.

I never really had the intention of resuming my career as an academic librarian. I came back to work in this new space called digital humanities (DH), which I realized corresponded extremely well to my interest in how digital materials are used. I thought that DH was the space in which I should exist. I’ve learned that it’s not. I’ll pick up on that in another post.

Over the last few years I’ve been approached by executive search firms more than a dozen times for positions as a library director. I half-heartedly tested the waters for few openings but, finally, told the recruiters that I was off the job market. I actually said that my career goal is not to be a library director. I actually love my current job. Even though my job title is Associate University Librarian, that’s not very reflective of what I’m doing. Or, is it, if one considers where libraries are heading? That in itself is another post but at this moment I want to continue reflecting on what drives me both professionally and personally, and what I sense will sustain me will through my retirement.

Everything I want to do professionally is tied to that question, “How do you write in digital media?” My passion is exploring storytelling in the mid-century. I don’t plan to really ever retire. Yes, I will retire from my job in the library at some point in my sixties but I can see myself continue to work through my seventies and even eighties in digital publishing. I’m genuinely excited to see the state of digital storytelling when I’m 85. That will be the year 2050. If I’m alive, I’ll still be blogging in 2050.


A sabbatical to study literary networks

I’ll soon start on my first sabbatical at Washington and Lee. As library faculty on a 12-month contract, we take our sabbaticals during the summer months (June – August). I’ll be taking a week out of this period at the beginning of August to attend ILiADS but the rest of my summer will be focused on my research into literary networks. The following is the proposal I submitted when requesting research leave. I thought I would share it so that others know what I’m working on and also as a public way of committing me to my plans. I’m expecting to post updates about my research to this blog. I’ll also be updating the companion website for my research though I’m not sure yet which directions that site will take. I thought about blogging from that site but decided that I should keep my blogging efforts consolidated here as much as possible. If you have questions or comments about my research, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @jeffbarry

During leave I will pursue my research into literary networks at a deeper level. This research is directly tied to advancing the digital humanities initiatives at W&L as well as exploring connections with social science disciplines that utilize social network analysis. My research agenda on the networks within literary publishing examines the evolution of “little magazines” during the 20th century. The patterns uncovered through this study can potentially impact the current generation of literary outlets that bring new voices to the public.

A description of the background of this initiative, which stemmed from the acquisition of the letters that Ezra Pound wrote to a W&L student in the 1950s on the development of the Shenandoah literary magazine, is on my literary networks website. The specific focus during the leave period is to model a social network analysis methodology that is suitable for the analysis of literary journals. The framework for this initiative is the evolving nature of literary journals, especially the type known as “little magazines” that function as the places where most poetry and short stories are first published.

My starting point in this project is Shenandoah, published since 1950 by W&L. Individual editors are important to the quality of a literary journal through setting the tone, direction, and selection of material for publishing. An editor does not exist in isolation but depends upon a network of writers and, often, “consulting editors” to advise and recommend authors as well as to market and promote the publication to potential readers. These connections, rather than the individual editor, form the essential pattern that determines the extent of a publication’s reach. Through examining the networks within literary publishing, we learn about the evolution of literary journals to help understand the historical and sociological attributes that permit cultural initiatives to flourish.

Shenandoah presents several characteristics that make it an interesting case study for the evolution of literary journals in the mid-century. For the first decade of publication, Shenandoah was edited and produced by undergraduate students. But the roster was not typical of a student literary magazine. Seldom were students published in the pages of Shenandoah during the early years. Authors published in Shenandoah during the 1950s included William Carlos Williams, Flannery O’Connor, Wyndham Lewis, and many other notable literary figures. An initial question is how did a young magazine with a staff of young men barely beyond their teens produce such a high-quality publication in a matter of few years. Equally interesting is how did the same magazine, just a few years later, falter so significantly that it almost ceased publication. The faculty stepped in to rescue the publication, which at the same time almost destroyed it. Shenandoah went through several years where a new editor rotated in for almost every issue. This practice is usually a sign of an underlying structural problem. The publication finally stabilized in 1962 when James Boatwright took over and remained editor until his death in 1988. This study will focus on the first twenty years of Shenandoah, which can be defined by three phrases: 1950-57, 58-61, 62-70. An editor or a set of editors defines each of these periods. The pattern of Shenandoah demonstrates the impact of a network of authors on a literary magazine.

My research during the leave period will result in two companion articles tentatively titled “The Formation of Shenandoah: A Network Analysis of a Literary Magazine” and “The Social Network of a Literary Editor in the 1950s”.

The second article will focus on important data that is not in the list of authors and editors of Shenandoah, and on material that was not initially in the archive. The second article also will highlight the importance of searching for holes in the archive as part of the research process. The W&L Archives and Special Collections is fortunate to have the correspondence of Thomas H. Carter (C’54) who was instrumental in the early success of Shenandoah. Carter was advised in his editorial role through an “anonymous encourager”: Ezra Pound. The two men exchanged over one hundred letters, which the W&L library acquired in 2015 from the Patrick Henry Community College. Only one scholar, in 1980, has ever examined that correspondence. These letters were digitized during Spring Term 2015 by the Introduction to Digital Humanities class that I co-taught with Digital Humanities Librarian Mackenzie Brooks. I am currently in the process of editing those letters. Lesley Wheeler’s Modern American Poetry class in Fall 2016 provided annotations to those letters. Pound repeatedly stressed that his advice to Carter be kept strictly anonymous. Carter also exchanged letters with a broad range of authors. Those letters also are in Archives and Special Collections.

Through the Carter letters, I intend to employ computational techniques that demonstrate and weigh the influence of various actors (i.e., literary figures) on what was actually published in Shenandoah. The Carter/Pound correspondence adds another dimension to the network analysis of the authors published in Shenandoah: which authors did Pound recommend that were never published in Shenandoah? Why were those authors not published? Carter and Pound intended to create their own journal. Based on their correspondence, which authors would they have included in that new publication? Pound viewed his relationship with Carter as part of a mid-century international literary network that include the journals Nine and The European in London, Meanjin in Australia, Merlin in Paris, Delta in Montreal, and The Hudson Review in New York City. Pound (in his idiosyncratic style) advised that the aim of a literary magazine is to foster “a means of communication between INDIVIDUALS, that is all yu can do” and stressed the importance of editors and writers of different publications connecting with each other: “why don’t you buzzards EVER communicate with each other”.


2015: end of year review

Just saw this post sitting in my drafts folder. For some reason I never hit published…probably needed to add more…but now it’s 2017. I should write a 2016 review. Anything, going to go ahead and put this out to there. Maybe I will write about 2016 before it’s 2018.

Made it through another year and celebrated my 50th birthday in December. I should do a decade review since the last ten years have been exciting, but that’s for another post. A quick recap of some highlights from 2015:

  • Co-taught a one-credit course on Scholarly Text Encoding with our then Metadata Librarian Mackenzie Brooks.
  • Missed the third class in January due to a kidney stone that had me in the emergency room at 2 am. (drink.more.water.)
  • Obtained (along with our Head of Special Collections) a wonderful collection of material for the library that belonged to Tom Carter, a 1954 alum of Washington and Lee and former editor of Shenandoah. Among the items is a rare portrait of Ezra Pound by Wyndham Lewis.
  • Launched the literary networks website.
  • Conducted 4 interviews about Tom Carter as part of the literary networks project.
  • Attended the Moving People Connections symposium at the University of Virginia where I learned a lot more about advances in prosopography
  • Co-taught (also with Mackenzie) the four-credit course Introduction to Digital Humanities, which culminated in the students digitizing the complete set of letters between Tom Carter and Ezra Pound.
  • Attended a computational computing in the humanities symposium at the University of Chicago.
  • Spent a day at the University of Chicago Special Collections researching the archives of Poetry magazine
  • Article on Tom Carter and Ezra Pound accepted for publication in The International Literary Quarterly.
  • Our Mellon grant became official.

Books I’m reading lately #1

An occasional series of books  I read or in the process of reading, most recent first…this list is long since I’m including the books I read since July 2016.

  • Towards Relational Sociology by Nick Crossley
  • The Original 1939 Notebook of a Return to the Native Land by Aimé Césaire, translated by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman
  • Clayton Eshleman: The Whole Art edited by Stuart Kendall
  • Novices: A Study of Poetic Apprenticeship by Clayton Eshleman
  • My Devotion: New Poems by Clayton Eshleman
  • The Complete Poetry: César Vallejo edited and translated by Clayton Eshleman
  • New Documentary Ecologies: Emerging Platforms, Practices and Discourses edited by Kate Nash
  • A Companion to Mario Vargas Llosa by Sabine Kollman
  • The Kill Room by Jeffery Deaver (and you thought I was a book snob)
  • Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee
  • Understanding Global Slavery by Kevin Bales
  • Jamestown: The Buried Truth by William M. Kelso
  • Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human by Daniel J. Siegel
  • Thus Bad Begins by Javier Marías
  • Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel J. Siegel
  • Paris Nocture by Patrick Modiano
  • The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard Davidson
  • The Making of a Racist by Charles Dew
  • Out of the Dark by Patrick Modiano
  • In the Café of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano
  • Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation by Daniel J. Siegel
  • The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between by Stacey D’Erasmo
  • The Nearest Thing to Life by James Wood
  • The Art of Fiction by James Salter
  • The Surrender by Scott Esposito
  • A Sport and a Pastime: A Novel by James Salter
  • Introduction to Computational Social Science by Claudio Cioffi-Revilla
  • Technique in Fiction by Robie Macauley and George Lanning
  • The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano
  • Lady in the Dark: Iris Barry and the Art of Film by Robert Sitton
  • Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description by Tim Ingold

There’s more I’m sure. I definitely need to read more fiction.


Readings on data and statistical services for a liberal arts college

I’m beginning to do some scenario planning on what will data and statistical services offered by the library look like in 10-15 years. As part of that activity I’m compiling a list of articles, websites, & presentations that will help inform that perspective.

Many of these come from the article Teaching the next generation of statistics students to ‘think with data’: special issue on statistics and the undergraduate curriculum by Nicholas Horton and Johanna Hardin. That article has a nice section of key articles on statistics in the undergraduate curriculum, from which I’ve made some selections below.

Setting the stage for data science: integration of data management skills in introductory and second courses in statistics. Horton, Baumer, Wickham. 2015. (pdf)

Identifies 5 key elements that deserve greater emphasis in the undergrad curriculum:

  1. “Thinking creatively, but constructively, about data”…data cleaning, data storage
  2. working with data sets of varying sizes and understanding scalability issues…querying databases
  3. command-line skills. The authors mention R, Python. I also would include Unix. The command-driven environment “provide freedom from the un-reproducible point-and-click application paradigm”.
  4. “Experience wrestling with large, messy, complex, challenging data sets…these data are more similar to what analysts actually see in the wild.”
  5. “An ethos of reproducibility”

The article goes onto illustrate examples of utilizing these 5 elements in coursework.


Tidy Data – slides of presentation by Wickham

Data acquisition and preprocessing in studies on humans: what is not taught in statistics classes?

Statistics and Science: A Report of the London Workshop on the Future of the Statistical Sciences 2014 (pdf)

Humanities Data in R

Implications of the Data Revolution for Statistics Education (pdf) 2015 calls for more emphasis on big data, data visualization, and developing an “aesthetic for data handling and modeling based on solving practical problems”.

A data science course for undergraduates: thinking with data (pdf)

A cognitive interpretation of data analysis

Teaching and learning data visualization: ideas and assignments (pdf) 2015

Meeting Student Needs for Multivariate Data Analysis: A Case Study in Teaching a Multivariate Data Analysis Course with No Pre-requisites Amy Wagaman, Amherst College

Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Programs in Statistical Science



Linked Open Data & Literary Networks

We had the first meeting today of what we’re calling our Linked Open Data Working Group. In addition to myself, group members are Mackenzie Brooks (Digital Humanities Librarian), Jeff Knudson (Senior Technology Architect/ITS), and Brandon Walsh (Mellon Digital Humanities Fellow).

What is it we want to accomplish through this group?

  • Develop a better understanding of Linked Open Data (LOD) and how it might apply to projects at W&L.

We want to think about LOD in the context of our specific DH projects in order to avoid talking about it in the abstract. But we also want to make sure that we clearly identify what we want to accomplish with those projects instead of having a solution (e.g., LOD) that is looking for a problem to solve. In other words, we’re going to develop the vision for the project and then work backwards.

We have several potential projects but the easiest to get started on is literary networks. This project evolved out of archival research relating to the Shenandoah literary magazine published by W&L. While Shenandoah is partially indexed in MLA, a full index of Shenandoah has never been produced. (Also, the contents are not in JSTOR.)  A student worker in the library has compiled an index as part of her job in Special Collections and Archives. Our DH Librarian (previously our Metadata Librarian) identified the necessary fields and created the spreadsheet for the data entry. The Shenandoah index has over 6,400 entries.

Our first task in this project doesn’t actually involve LOD: creating a web-based index to Shenandoah. But we want to keep LOD principles in mind as we develop the index. The Shenandoah data set provides research material that goes far beyond merely an index to a journal.

While the research agenda of the literary networks project is the topic of a future post, the essence is that I want to examine the relationships and connections among authors and editors.


Top-level functionality

Here are primary features involved in a LOD approach to this data set. Each feature is a different stage, or layer, of the project. A use case scenario describes functionality enabled by each stage.

  • a web-based index to Shenandoah

Use case: Queries based on editor. From these queries we can form network graphs based on relationships among authors and editors and issues.

  • expose the index/relationship data as LOD

Use case: Exposing this data set as a LOD triple store (with possibilities of generating query results in json & csv) allows for the data to be analyzed in a variety of tools such as Palladio, R, Gephi. Plus, it provides the ability for other projects to integrate this data.

  • the web index incorporates additional data about authors

Use case: the web interface shows brief biographical information and publishing history about each author. Instead of gathering this data manually and entering it directly into the data set, we want to explore creating a process that connects external information about these authors with this data by consuming LOD.

  • expanding the Shenandoah data set by including relationship information identified by archival research

Use case: literary networks are influenced by friendships and social contacts. Publishing decisions are often made by brokers (e.g., Ezra Pound), whose influence is not formally represented in the index data. There’s a complex challenge in figuring out how to represent this information.

  • expanding the data set with data of other literary journals in order to create a broader data set of authors publishing in the mid-century

Use case: While the data set starts with one specific literary journal (Shenandoah), it’s the connections among authors and editors publishing in a larger set of journals during the same time period that is more interesting. Authors do not simply write for one publication. Ultimately, the literary networks project will create a data set of authors (and editors) who published in mid-century literary journals.

From originating with the Shenandoah data set we gain experience with the process of utilizing LOD. What we learn through this initiative can be applied to other projects, particularly those with biographical data.

Process of the LOD working group

As a group we will meet once a month. We will use a Slack channel in the W&L DHAT team for communication.